The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary

On 1 November 1950, Pope Pius XII (Munificentissimus Deus) formally defined “as a divinely revealed dogma:  The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, after her life on earth, was assumed, body and soul, to the glory of heaven.”

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Ceiling of the Assumption of Mary in Santa Maria Immacolata a via Veneto, Rome

Gospel  (Luke 1: 39-56)

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all woman you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? From the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things,
the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy –
according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

Reflection from Pope Francis

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning! Happy Feast of the Assumption!

The Gospel passage (Lk 1:39-56) of today’s Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven describes the encounter between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, emphasizing that “Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (v. 39). In those days, Mary hastened to a small city in the vicinity of Jerusalem in order to meet Elizabeth. Today, however, we contemplate her on her journey toward the Heavenly Jerusalem, to encounter at last the face of the Father and to see once again the face of her Son Jesus. So often in her earthly life she had travelled mountainous areas, until the painful final phase of Calvary, associated with the Mystery of the Passion of Christ. Today, we see her arrive at God’s mountain, “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1) — as the Book of Revelation reads — and we see her cross the threshold of the heavenly homeland.

She was the first to believe in the Son of God, and is the first to be assumed into heaven in body and soul. She was the first to gather Jesus in her arms when he was still a boy, and is the first to be gathered in his arms to be introduced into the eternal Kingdom of the Father. Mary, a humble and simple maiden from an isolated village on the edge of the Roman Empire, precisely because she received and lived the Gospel, is allowed by God to be beside the Son’s throne for eternity. This is how the Lord puts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts those of low degree (cf. Lk 1:52).

The Assumption of Mary is a great mystery which regards each one of us, it regards our future. Mary, in fact, precedes us on the path walked upon by those who, through their Baptism, have bound their life to Jesus, as Mary bound her own life to Him. Today’s feast makes us look to heaven, foretells the “new heaven and new earth”, with the Risen Christ’s victory over death and the definitive defeat of evil. Therefore, the exultation of the humble maiden of Galilee, expressed in the Canticle of the Magnificat, becomes the song of all humanity, which sees with satisfaction the Lord stoop over all men and all women, humble creatures, and assume them with him into heaven.

The Lord stoops over the humble, to raise them up, as the Canticle of the Magnificat proclaims. This hymn of Mary also leads us to think of the many current painful situations, in particular of women overwhelmed by the burden of life and by the tragedy of violence, of women enslaved by the oppression of the powerful, of children forced into inhuman labour, of women obliged to surrender in body and in spirit to the greed of men. May they begin as soon as possible a life of peace, of justice, of love, awaiting the day in which they will finally feel they are held by hands which do not humiliate them, but which lift them tenderly and lead them on the path of life, to heaven. May Mary, a maiden, a woman who suffered a great deal in her life, make us think of these women who suffer so much. Let us ask the Lord that He himself may take them by the hand and lead them on the path of life, freeing them from these forms of slavery.

Now let us turn trustingly to Mary, gentle sweet Queen of Heaven, and ask her: “Give us days of peace, watch over our journey, let us see your Son, filled with the joy of Heaven” (Hymn of Second Vespers).

(‘The Angelus’ in St Peter’s Square, 15 August 2016)

 


Feast of St Oswald, King & Martyr

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The Feast of St Oswald, King and Martyr, falls on 5 August.

Oswald was the eldest son of Aethelfrith, King of Bernicia (present day Northumbria), and was probably born in the year 605.

After the death of his father, Oswald and his brothers fled to the island of Iona for safety. There, he was baptised and became a Christian.

In 634, Oswald returned to Northumbria to regain his father’s kingdom. It is said that he set up a wooden cross as his standard and dedicated himself and his people to God’s protection before engaging in battle with the occupying Welsh king, Cadwallon, not far from Hexham. Oswald defeated and killed Cadwallon. He set up his royal palace and court at Bamburgh and called the monks from Iona to re-establish Christianity throughout his land. Aidan responded to this call and established a church at Bamburgh, together with a community based on Columba’s community on the island of Lindisfarne.

We know from Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” that Oswald and Aidan forged a deep friendship and partnership. Oswald often accompanied Aidan on his missionary journeys, acting as interpreter for Aidan who could not speak the local dialect.

Bede also tells this story: One Easter, Oswald and Aidan were feasting at the palace, when a silver dish of food was set before them. Just as they were saying their prayers of blessing a servant, who looked after the needs of the poor, came into the hall to tell the king that a great crowd of hungry folk were sitting outside the palace begging alms. The king immediately ordered his food to be taken out to them and the silver platter to be broken up and shared among them. Aidan, impressed by the generosity of the king, raised Oswald’s right hand and prayed, “May this hand never wither with age”.

Sadly, the reign of Oswald only lasted eight years. On 5th August 642, he was killed in battle by Penda, king of the Mercians, at Maserfield, now Oswestry, in Shropshire. His head and arms were severed from his body and stuck onto poles. Legend has it that his right arm, which Aidan had raised in prayer, found its way incorrupt back to Bamburgh and was placed in a silver casket in the church there. Oswald’s head was returned to Lindisfarne and was eventually buried in the coffin of St Cuthbert.

Despite living in violent times, Oswald is renowned as a diplomat, a unifier, and a generous and humble king.

Almighty and merciful God,
who so kindled the faith of St Oswald with your Spirit
that he set up the sign of the Cross in his kingdom
and turned his people to the light of Christ:
grant that we, being fired by the same Spirit,
may always bear our cross before the world
and be found faithful servants of the Gospel.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

St Oswald, King and Martyr – pray for us.